Category Archives: Summer Days

Khan Academy – A Great Learning Resource!

If you’re like me, you’ve found that nearly the whole summer break has passed, and you pretty much forgot about any plans you made to help your kids keep up with the new skills they learned during their past school year. Between summer trips, camps, VBS, sleepovers, library trips, and finding a way to keep out of the heat, homework and study time was left far behind.

My husband mentioned to me a website that a friend of ours recommended, Khan Academy, especially for helping kids obtain or keep remedial math skills. I signed up through my Facebook, just to check it out … and was hugely impressed! First of all, it’s free. And I was able to create an account for each of my kids. They chose their user name, and chose a math “mission” for their respective grade level, which leads them through quizzes and questions that takes them through a well-rounded series of lessons. If there is anything they don’t understand, they can click on a short tutorial video to teach them that particular skill.

When they complete a certain number of minutes or lessons in math, I let them click on one of the other areas. (Computer animation is a favorite for all of them. It’s a series of videos, which show how math, geometry, and similar skills can be used in real life … and fun stuff like creating Pixar animation!)

At the end of the week, I received an email that told me what my kids had been up to on their missions at Khan Academy. At a glance, I could see how many minutes they had spent on the website, how many points they had gained, and how many minutes and questions for each area (such as “rational number word problems” or “multiply two-digit numbers”).

With just a few weeks before school begins, Khan Academy is a great way to help kids recall math skills they might have forgotten over the summer, and give them a head start in learning new concepts. And have fun all the while!

My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica commented, “It’s really fun. While doing homework, you can also build up your avatar and score more points. Plus math isn’t the only thing to do there. There are a bunch of other subjects. My favorite is computer art with Pixar.”

My nine-year-old son, Allen, said, “I like the math and I also like the avatar thing. And one of the things I especially like is the computer art and that I get to watch things on the website.”

Eleven Alternatives to “Pokemon Go” … Stimulate Your Child’s Summer

child taking a picture

Child taking a photo at a museum.

Maybe you have time limits to your kids’ screen time and all you hear is, “But Mom (or Dad), there’s nothing ELSE to do!”

Maybe you don’t want your seven-year-old running across space, dodging vehicles, and landing in a canal or reservoir on their mad dash for Pokémon Go characters.

Maybe you don’t allow video games in your household.

Maybe your conspiracy radar is going off like a beacon because if Pokémon Go has really been downloaded that many million times and created such an interest … there must be something funny going on and you don’t want your children to be a part of that.

Maybe you just want to do better with the whole parenting thing this summer and seeing your kids with their faces buried in smart phones or tablets doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies.

Here are eleven activities you can do with your children to escape summer blues … and avoid chasing Pikachus.

1. Make cards for friends and relatives … and send them snail mail.

How many relatives, especially elderly ones, can you think of who would love to receive a homemade card in their mailbox?

2. Read a Shakespeare play, or some of his sonnets, aloud and perfect your British accent.

Or Irish accent. Or Western or Southern. You can even memorize a sonnet together and have an accent competition.

3. Make a list of original photos for your child to take.

You could also have a family (or pet) photo shoot with your child as the photographer.

Or a photo scavenger hunt.

4. Write and illustrate a story together.

Let your child run free with imagination and help out in places where he or she gets stuck. You might be surprised with what even the youngest children can come up with.

5. Learn fruit cutting or flower arranging.

You will find plenty of YouTube tutorials to help you get started, and create some great treats or gifts for family or friends.

6. Make chocolate.

Anything goes: bacon chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, orange mint chocolate, cinnamon chocolate.

7. Have a bake sale.

Or a homemade chocolate sale … and raise funds for a favorite organization or ministry.

8. Create a time capsule.

Decide together on what date in the future you will open it.

9. Put together a summertime scrapbook or journal.

Add something to it every day.

10. Create a long-term “bucket list”.

You might or might not have heard of John Goddard. He made a life goal list at 15 years of age, and accomplished over 100 of them. Encourage your children to do the same (and if you don’t have a life goal list, make one yourself!)

11. Start a blog together on a theme you and your child enjoy. 

My 11-year-old daughter loves reading, as do I. This summer, we launched a book review blog, Jewel Rose Reviews, where we hope to publish a review once a week on a book we’ve both read. That way, readers get input from two perspectives: mother and daughter, and Jessica and I get to read, write, and take photos together. All fun stuff!

 

So there it is. Some ideas to keep you and your kids busy this summer, whether or not you’re playing Pokémon Go. And if you have any tried-and-proven family activities you would like to share with other readers, please leave a comment!

Apple Cake Recipe for Kids

My daughter, Jessica, recently made this, improving on the original recipe I had by asking about adding a topping. We made a lemon glaze and the apple cake tastes great with the glaze!

apple cake recipe

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil (or softened butter)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/3 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1/2 cup milk

2 cups grated apple

1 cup nuts and/or raisins, chopped (optional)

 

Directions:

Grease and flour baking pan

Mix sugar, oil (or butter), eggs & vanilla

Sift dry ingredients. Stir into wet mixture along with milk.

Stir in apples and nuts.

Pour into 13×9” baking pan.

Bake at 350F for around 45 minutes.

 

Lemon Glaze:

1-2 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated lemon (optional)

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons butter, melted

 

Mix together to taste, and pour over warm apple cake

Banana Bread Recipe for Kids

banana bread muffin recipe

This banana bread recipe is my son Allen’s specialty. Whenever we have a few overripe bananas, I will let him know, and he’ll pull out the recipe and make either banana bread or banana-bread muffins. The only part I usually help with is putting the tray or tins in the oven and pulling them back out afterward.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 egg

1 cup mashed bananas (the riper the better)

2 tablespoons milk

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Directions:

Mix sugar and butter. Add egg and banana and stir. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir. Add nuts.

Place in greased and floured baking dish (small cake pan size) or in muffin tray. (Will make one dozen muffins.)

From Grumpy to Grateful

kid in pool

It isn’t a large pool by any means. Five feet wide. Nine feet long. Three feet high. It is big enough for an adult to do water aerobics or for a few kids to splash around in the Central Valley summer. My husband bought it last year and put it up again last week, as the highs crept into the hundreds. He fitted it with a filter and put a removable shade above it so the kids won’t get too much sun when they’re out there.

On Monday, the kids spent all afternoon splashing around. Tuesday, the same. They carried Trio-block boats and Lego men out there. They wore goggles and made currents.

This afternoon, first it was “dirt in the pool.” I assured them that any large swimming pool has far more dirt, as does the lake they swam in last month.

Then it was the weather.

“It’s too hot.”

“The water’s too cold.”

It’s summer. It’s going to be hot. The water is supposed to be colder than the air. Otherwise it wouldn’t be refreshing to play in it.

Then it was issues with each other.

“He’s splashing me.”

“She keeps bothering me with the net.”

I threatened with no videos for the rest of the week if they didn’t stop complaining.

Finally, I went inside, upset. My husband had spent hours putting up the pool, fixing the filter, building a sunshade. No gratefulness. Just complaints. If I heard one more issue, I told myself, they’d have definite consequences. My husband had just gotten home and I told him what was going on. He went into the bathroom and I heard the shower running. Two minutes later, he dashed out of the bathroom wearing his swimming trunks. He ran outside and jumped into the pool with the kids, splashing them and singing a silly song.

They’re still out there. I hear the splashing and occasional shout.

My kids aren’t perfect, but why is it that when they take after me in the good things I’m happy, and when they take after me in the not-so-good, I’m indignant? I might not think I’m voicing my complaints, but I don’t think I’ve said much positive about the Fresno heat or the influx of flies this season. I observe when their rooms are messy, but fail to praise them when they remember to make their beds or clear their plates from the table.

And then there are my kids themselves to be, oh, so grateful for. The purpose they give to my days. The companionship and friendship they offer to me and to each other. The ways they are growing and the questions they are asking that show what amazing things God is slowly working in their minds and hearts.

There is also their dad. My husband. Who works all day only to come home to a grumpy household … and dons swimming trunks to jump in a kid-size pool and make his children laugh.

It’s a life and a family I wouldn’t trade for three hundred swimming pools filled with chocolate, chai, and cheesecake (not mixed together, of course). God help me to count my blessings, especially if I expect my kids to count theirs. Help me to realize that what I do and say speaks far louder than what I tell them to do and say.

Is Sleep Overrated?

little boy reaching upward

A friend of mine recently claimed, “Sleep is overrated.” He might have been joking, but he’s a morning person, so he might actually think that. I am of the opinion that sleep is underrated. Sleeping in is one of the sheer joys of life. Naps are a little bit of heaven.

And it is summer. A stay-at-home summer with my kids, rare and wondrous after seasons of classes and teaching, mornings trying to pry my eyes open far earlier than they agreed to, preparing breakfasts and packing lunches, out of the door with kids in tow by eight. Okay, 8:05, maybe a few minutes later on some days.

But summer. I rewarded myself with a week of no alarms. That ended today. I know the morning is the best time to get anything of substance done, when the mind is fresh and the temperature outside hasn’t yet scaled 100. So I started with something manageable. 7:20. Not nearly as early as work / school mornings. But enough to get some quiet time: chai and a good devotional book, before I woke the kids.

Two of my children will sleep as long as they are allowed to. The third, however. Well, he was up and sitting at the table before I emerged from the bathroom this morning. Ready for breakfast. Ready for the day.

It’s not a big thing, really. But I am one of those strange creatures that craves solitude. Just a little is often all I need. When my kids were babies and preschool age, I resolved to such times being few and far between. I dreamed of the time they would be in school and I could have just a little while in the morning. But as soon as the youngest was school age, I began either taking early classes or teaching at their school. No quiet mornings. No alone mornings.

It’s a little thing. I know. Selfish too. I reason that during seasons of my life when I had stretches of time to think and read and pray, the things I wrote were so much better. If I had that time now, I sometimes tell myself, I could do that again. Come up with amazing ideas. Write. Just write. And read. And drink chai.

This morning, my quiet time was disturbed every 3.7 minutes or so with questions like, “Mommy, does hydrogen mixed with carbon dioxide create an explosion?” and “Do some Christians believe that God made the world millions instead of thousands of years ago?” And yes, these are questions my child asked this morning. Neither have easy, quick answers.

I couldn’t request that he go back to bed, ask me again in an hour, or at least once my cup of tea is empty. He’s awake, and life is waiting to be experienced. Questions are waiting to be asked and answered.

Maybe I should try to look at life through his eyes. Through the perspective of a child who knows there are things to do and see and discover. Maybe that means getting up a little earlier if I really want that time for peace and prayer before the day begins in earnest. And maybe it also means that on days my kids are up as early as I and firing away with those questions about what makes the world go around, I choose to let go of “me” time because no moment is ever the same. No question is ever the same. No heart or mind. And as a mother, watching these hearts and souls and minds of my children learn and grow is a gift. A greater gift than an hour of quiet or an extra few winks of sleep.

Maybe my friend was right. Sleep is overrated when life is outside the door waiting to be lived.

A Busy Summer

a summer day at the parkWithin a week, my children will be in school, after a three-month summer break. It was a summer I had hoped would be focused on them. Outings. Stories. Fun. Togetherness.

It was, in fact, a busy summer. It began with an in-depth “spring cleaning” (yes, in summer) after my sister and her kids moved out of our home. It continued when my husband began a new work-from-home venture by building a small voice-over studio in our family room. And when I had three separate courses to plan from scratch and prepare for teaching at an adult school: working from home, blogging, and living on purpose. In short, it was not a sit-around-and-relax summer.

But we did some things as a family.

1. We got season passes to a water park and went nearly every week.

2. We took a weekend camping trip, waded upstream until someone spotted a freshwater crab, and stargazed beneath a diamond-strewn sky.

3. Nearly every morning, we read stories from the Bible or a kids’ devotional, or watched a video from the “Creation Today” show.

4. We had a memory verse contest, where every ten verses memorized was rewarded with something special: a sleepover or a special snack.

5. I read stories to the kids nearly every evening. Jessica and I have been reading through Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” series. Allen and I, first through The Sugar Creek Gang and then the “Little House on the Prairie” series.

Still, I feel that in many ways I spent too much time sitting at the computer; much of it was necessary work, some of it was unnecessary browsing, but all of it was time not spent with the kids. They keep themselves busy, yes. Our daughter reads books as if we’re about to enter a Fahrenheit 451 realm of existence and she needs to experience every book at least once. Our older son occupies himself with drawing and creates artwork that is beyond my skill level. Our younger son designs complex patterns with his hot wheels cars, and more recently has been expressing an interest in drawing and coloring. I’m thrilled to see them develop skills, create make-believe worlds together, and utilize their God-given imagination.

But I was still feeling guilty and I didn’t do more with my kids. Then I remembered a few summers ago, when I created an intricate summer schedule for myself and the kids. It included learning Spanish twice a week, a baking project once a week, a weekly science class, guitar lessons, times tables, and more. I wrote a blog post about the summer plan, and my mom made the following comment:

We all had certain jobs that were year round. Summers were spent hanging out with friends. When they put a community pool across the street, we swam every day. I walked for miles to visit friends. I played solitaire when I was bored. I embroidered. When we were younger the parents would shove us out the door to play, and sometimes locked it so we couldn’t get back in. I don’t remember my mom having to entertain us. It’s admirable that the kids want to learn and do things. In all your planning, remember: summers are for teachers (and that’s what you are besides being a mommy) to recharge and get things done they have neglected throughout the school year. God worked 6 days and rested on the 7th. Down time. We all need it. Kids too.

She was right. As it turned out, we moved that summer, and much of the schedule went out the window.

This summer, I might not have been doing something with my kids every moment, but they still learned. They grew. And I didn’t have to do it all. I tend to believe that I need to take an active (or over-active) role in the lives of my family, but sometimes I need to let go. Every year, as my children grow, I will need to let go more and more. This includes not feeling like if I don’t do everything I intend to do, I have failed as a mother.

I will never be what I would consider a “perfect mom.” But I love my children. And the times I spend with them are the best moments of my life. Sometimes, I suppose, perspective rather than perfection is enough.

I hope you had a wonderful summer with your children and family as well!

Following Bubbles over the Rainbow

a child with bubblesSome things in this world are magical.

It doesn’t matter if they’re really not, or if the science of them is about as practical as mud.

There’s just something about them that whispers otherworldly. Things like bubbles.

I know my generation wasn’t the first one interested in bubbles because a couple generations before me, Glinda the Good Witch floated through the sky in none other than a gigantic bubble. In my mind, she was like an angel, and maybe bubbles were one of angels’ many transportation devices. Hey, you never know.

Even as a somewhat practical child (though likely as imaginative as the next kid), I remember imagining some things just might be possible with bubbles. Like blowing one so big that I could step inside and float off like Glinda. Their shimmering iridescence and the way they would disappear into nothing, pretty much the same way they came, was magical.

Bubbles are one of those things every child has to experience. Blowing so many bubbles that they get their hands slathered in soapy water so the bubbles can rest in their palm. Like a little bit of fairy dust or a genie lamp. A token comprised of a little bit of earth or something earthly, and a little bit of something heavenly. In your hand one moment and the next … who knows where?

It’s magical watching a bubble float toward the sky as if it somehow belongs there, somewhere over the rainbow. As if it was somehow bidding adults and children alike to follow. Or at the very least whispering, “Look up, follow the sense of magic or mystery. Believe.”

That just maybe more is possible than we think. Maybe mystery is in the most mundane and in the most magical things. Like watching a child at play and remembering a time when anything was possible.

And daring to believe that perhaps anything still is.

A Gift of the Present

The gift of childrenThe difficulty in writing about parenting while my children are still young (as in, while still in the midst of parenting) is, well, the difficulty. It’s not for lack of material that I so often fail to write. To the contrary, so much comes up on a daily basis that I find myself wishing I could somehow remember it all or write it all down (and hoping that somewhere, somehow, all this is being recorded by Someone who is better at it than me). In short, I miss ever so much. The days pass so quickly. We’re already weeks into summer vacation, a summer in which I had been hoping to do some extra writing. Not only blogging about parenting, but making progress in some of my long-term writing projects (a.k.a. books). But as I messaged to a friend on Facebook the other day, my kids are only young once and I know if I don’t make them my priority this summer, the months will pass by all too quickly and I’ll regret not having made the most of the time I had. Come September, my youngest will be starting school. For the first time since my husband and I welcomed our daughter into the world, nearly ten years ago, I won’t have one or the other of my kids with me for a majority of the day. I can’t exactly wrap my brain around it. Of course, when the time comes, I’ll be too busy to spend much thought on it. Between my continuing education and two separate teaching opportunities, once the school year begins, I’ll be spending almost more time in the classroom than my own children. In short, life is not going to get any less busy and I can’t count on sometime next month or next year to make the most of life. But I have now. Today. Not even tomorrow is a guarantee, but today is a gift waiting to be unwrapped. That’s why they call it the “present.” In my case, it really is a gift. God help me understand that. I know there are many mothers and fathers who don’t get the luxury of spending the summer with their children. Even if I do have work-from-home duties on the side (and sometimes deadlines bring them closer to center stage) I still have the majority of every day this summer to tune into my kids. And it’s making a difference. After only a couple of weeks consciously making “motherhood” my main focus, I can see a change in each one of the children. I find myself understanding them better — their feelings or fears or where they’re coming from even when they’re complaining why they “can’t” do something or another. This change (in myself? my kids?) simultaneously encourages me and frightens me. I’ve read that love, to a child, is spelled “t-i-m-e”. And every child will take all the love and time that he or she can get. I don’t have an endless supply of either. I wish I did. Pretty much every day, numerous times in the day, I wish I had more of one or the other. But at the same time, I don’t make the most of the time that I do have. I so easily let the moments pass by. Moments that transform into minutes, then hours … and pretty soon another day has passed. Another week. What’s the solution? Perhaps it’s one of perspective. Seeing each moment as one that will never return again. Each stage of a child’s life. Each moment of brilliant insight that they share with us. Even each argument with a sibling or testy response when asked to do a chore. It’s an opportunity to understand more about them, and help them understand more about life — the good and the bad, the crazy and ugly and beautiful all wrapped up together in a messy package. The package that dawns bright and colorful, that sets with the beauty of every memory captured and held inside the heart of parent and child. The package called today.

Summer Days a’Coming

Two Girls in Swimming PoolThis morning I saw a comment from an acquaintance on Facebook, about the upcoming summer break and having more time with her children. I followed the discussion thread, which got a little heated because of the variety of responses by mothers. A homeschooling mother was looking forward to summer for different reasons than her counterpart whose children go to school. Some mothers didn’t seem to be looking forward to the summer. One admitted there were times when she didn’t necessarily “like” her children, especially when they’re all at home. Another mother responded with, “How can you expect others to like them if you don’t like them?”

Yes, it was a little heated. After all, summer is around the corner.

Last week I did my finals for the semester. Tomorrow is my kids’ last day at school. I spent some time this week just thinking about and trying to plan for summer. Due to the busyness of the semester and other things going on at home and with my family, I feel that I’ve lost ground in my relationship with my children.

One of them has been going through a phase that is lasting longer than I expected. I’m starting to fear that it is turning into a perspective on life rather than a stage. This worries me because it has to do with having a “can’t do” mindset about things.

I know that, as a mother, my first responsibility this summer is to my children … as it always is. If one of them is going through something and it’s coming out through their words and outlook on life, it needs attention.

There are plenty of other things going on. I’m teaching courses for the first time in my life (and for a woman who still struggles with social anxiety, this is a huge thing. I’m shaking in my boots and though excited I’m asking myself, What on earth did I get into?)

As soon as I drove away from campus last Thursday after finals, my mind started racing ahead to everything I can read this summer, everything that I hope to write … and then skipped over to home improvement projects. My sister and her kids moved out this last weekend, so with the kids’ room changes, I have more than a little bit of cleaning and organizing to do.

I had to stop myself. I want the kids to enjoy their summer. A few years ago, I made a comprehensive (and overly ambitious) summer plan. Needless to say, we accomplished maybe one item on it. This summer, although I worked on a schedule of sorts, I tried to leave it a lot more flexible this time around.

I know they’re eager to swim this summer. After all, it’s Fresno and temperatures are already pushing past 100. (And I’m hoping that swimming will make up for my lack of exercise during the first five months of this year.) We’ll have chores and a Bible class before swimming/activity time, which will knock two things off my mental “teach-my-children” list.

Cleaning up after themselves, with the three of them living in the same room over the past year, has slid more than a little bit. Having chore time together will help us begin on the right note.

Bible class time is another thing that drifted to the back burner, during school days and even some weekends. That is one thing I need to keep as a priority. I know what grace and patience and faith my times with God grant me and I want my children to experience something of the same.

That’s the general idea of our schedule, at least the most important things: fun, faith, and family. I have a few other ideas/ projects/ hopes for the summer, but need to wait until I’ve had time to discuss them with the kids and see what they are hoping for.

So overall, if the discussion hadn’t already been so heated, I think I would say I’m looking forward to the summer. I’m excited about spending more time with my kids. I know there will be challenges – sibling disputes, messes left around, uninspired moments – but the prospects far outweigh any difficulties. After all, it’s a whole season of fun and sun and crazy-excited kids with the world ahead of them. What could be better?

What are your plans this summer? Do you go on vacation? Relax at the poolside? Tackle a family project? Please leave your thoughts and input below. We can share ideas about how to make this a great summer for both parents and children.